NASCAR executives gave themselves the annual pat on the back in announcing the 2017 Rules Package for the cup series last week, but as usual they have not gone far enough in some areas and have their biggest issue again exactly where it isn’t needed – the on-track product.
When asked to comment on what was accomplished in arriving at the 2017 Rules Package, Senior Vice President of Innovation and Racing Development Gene Stefanyshyn said:
“The objective there is to give the drivers, put the driving back in their hands a bit more … take less aero dependence off the car. That’s the big thing. The amount we are taking off the front and the rear is the same proportion; we try to keep the balance of the car identical. So it’s been taken off in the same proportion to maintain the balance of the car as it was last year.”
Blah, blah, blah. We’ve heard this all before. They’ve been trying to accomplish the same thing for about 10 years and haven’t really been able to get it right yet, so why should we believe that 2017 will be any different? Maybe we’ll be surprised, but I’m not holding my breath. Teams are testing the new package at Kansas Speedway on Monday, and I’m sure we’ll hear the usual PR representative-prepared optimistic sound bytes later in the day from those who participated in the test about how wonderful everything was, but color me skeptical. Let’s see where certain changes measure (or don’t measure) up.
Sleek And Shiny Might Go Fast But Big And Bulky Races Easier
It won’t matter how much downforce you remove from the car or whether or not it is proportionally-adjusted, as NASCAR claims. The fact remains that the cars will still have ride heights as low as possible, and there will still be front splitters, fascias and side skirts. Engineers and manufacturers are trying to eliminate any air movement underneath the car and seal the cars to the track.
And that’s the problem.
Any rules package which contains the above elements will favor the driver who is out front in clean air. It won’t matter if everyone has 100 pounds or 10,000 pounds of downforce – the fact will remain that everyone is the same and clean air is a finite commodity… the farther back in the field you run, less of it is available.
The reduced downforce will be achieved by narrowing the rear spoilers and tapering the rear fin, along with front splitter modifications. By later in the season, these changes will only serve to be cosmetic in nature….. by that time, the engineers will have been able to garner the downforce that is lost in other areas. So what is the real answer?
Lose the splitters. Lose the fascias. Lose the side skirts. Raise the ride height to 4″ to 5″ above the ground and get tons of air moving beneath the car again. I promise you that you will then have next to no aero-dependency. Driver skill and bravery will dictate the competitiveness. Fans will be amazed that the answer (and I suspect that this is indeed the answer that Tony Stewart recently claimed he had) was that simple.
NASCAR has mandated the following enhancements beginning in 2017 for superspeedway events only. They are optional at all other tracks:
Anti-intrusional plating and structural foot box
Toe board foam
Here’s my problem – why just Daytona and Talladega? There are any number of tracks where speeds are higher, particularly through the center of corners and at corner entry than at the superspeedways. There are the D-Shaped Tri-Ovals such as Atlanta, Texas, Charlotte and Las Vegas where impact angles to the wall in certain places are potentially more severe. At tracks such as Indianapolis, Pocono and Martinsville, you have long straightaways followed by sharp corners – another potential trouble spot.
To be meaningful, these enhancements must be mandatory at every track. Period. The end.
With the obvious exception of Dale Earnhardt, Sr., some of the notable deaths (Tony Roper, Kenny Irwin and Adam Petty) which lead to the current generation of safer cars did not happen at superspeedways. Why then, aren’t we focusing on every track when making safety improvements?
Reducing the size of the restrictor plates used at Daytona and Talladega by 1/64 of an inch from the current 57/64 to 7/8 will reduce horsepower, that’s true. However, to the naked eye and to spectators who don’t follow the technical aspects of the sport that closely – they won’t know a thing.
In fact, had NASCAR not announced this change, we wouldn’t know either.
It is important to regulate speeds at the plate tracks. The mind boggles at what speeds could be achieved if today’s other technology and an unrestricted motor were allowed to coexist. I certainly wouldn’t want to find out, especially with 39 other gear jockeys out there at the same time.
Tire Changes Need To Breed Other Complimentary Changes
The two changes announced with regard to tires are actually OK. NASCAR stopped while they were on a roll, though. No pun intended.
The easy math says that with fewer tires available, teams will have to put more miles on each set than they do now. However, this might not happen. Often times, teams do not use all of the sets that they’re allowed to purchase now, so the reduction will just mean that you’re selling fewer tires back to Goodyear at the end of the day, rather than lengthening each segment.
Fuel mileage is what truly dictates the length of each race segment. If NASCAR truly wanted to make longer race segments using tires that had greater wear (thus putting more driver input into the mix,) they needed to increase the fuel cell capacity as well. They did not.
Every driver will tell you that softer tires that “fall off” during a segment are fun to drive and will produce better racing. Let’s all hope that Goodyear toes the line and doesn’t bring harder compounds to offset the greater life needed from each tire. Doing so would negate both the letter and spirit of this new rule.
Requiring that teams start the race on the same tires on which they qualified is actually used in other series as well. It will be the same for everyone, and might actually make the first segment of each race a bit more competitive, as those who qualify poorly will actually have fewer laps on their tires at the beginning of a race. Those who qualify well will have more. After the first round of pit stops though, that parity is gone.
Let Me Tell You About The Extended Warranty And Rustproofing
After Monday’s test session with the 2017 Rules Package at Kansas Speedway, Todd Gordon, Joey Logano’s crew chief said something that skeptics anticipated — the changes produced less downforce but more sidefoce (especially on the rear of the car) making the cars more stable with about the same balance as they have now.
It’s all relative. If you’re shopping for a new car and you negotiate the price from $30,000 down to $25,000 and your trade in allowance is $10,000, you sill concern yourself about the $15,000 out of pocket, because that’s all that really matters. If you ask the salesperson to charge you $100,000 for the car if he can offer you $85,000 for your trade, your net result is the same.
Just like NASCAR competitiveness in 2017 is going to be.
Be sure to tell us what you think! If you were NASCAR management, what changes would you make? What changes already announced would you take back, if any? Please comment below or reach out to us via our social media channels.